It's been a tough go for the good folks at Fun Valley Park in Puerto Rico, and they've weathered the economic and political storms quite well. Most of their local competitors have fallen since they've been around, but smart business, and fun business too, has made them a veritable staple of the Puerto Rican landscape of entertainment, despite a most unfortunate beginning.
It all started six years ago today. Years of planning and an untold wealth of investment all but insured the launch of Fun Valley Park would go off swimmingly, save for anything but the unimaginable. That was September 9th, 2001, and just two days later, the unimaginable would happen. In case you're a hermit, wayward time traveler or, like myself, were only born since then, I'll give you a quick update on contemporary history. Two-days later was September 11th, 2001 when much of the world changed.
Travel and tourism all but stopped for a while – a critical while if you're a brand new amusement park – and United States funding for all things Puerto Rico got a severe nip in the bud. How they survived can only be chalked up to exceptionally conservative planning, since many of their longer-standing rivals went the way of the dodo.
But it's been six years now and Fun Valley Park in Arecibo, Puerto Rico is going stronger now than ever before, and I say this with authority because I've been there and, along with my editorial brothers, had a blast running every last attraction they offer half-way ragged for the journey.
Fun Valley Park is a campy, carnival-style amusement park. There's boisterous music blaring from the front gate, a good assortment of rides and attractions, and all of it is included in your admission charge. Don't kid yourself into thinking this place is Disneyland, because it isn't. Luckily though, for what one person pays to see Disney, your whole clan can come in here, so the value is right on par with what you would expect.
Above - The historic, narrated (in Spanish) tram ride was easily the silliest, cheesiet, and most fun attraction there. The parents were afraid we wouldn't like it, but we actually asked for it by name and went on the ride a second time.
Some of the rides give off a carnie air like they were just set up and like they might be taken down tomorrow. This isn't the case, of course. The rides have been there for years and are regularly tested and licensed. Really it's all part of the atmosphere, and for that matter, part of the charm. Once you're in, you get unlimited rides on everything they have to offer so complaining would be silly. Your time is better spent checking out all the rides, really.
The place feels a lot like a county fair in terms of the fun you'll have, but without a number of drawbacks of a fair. Fairs often draw in an undesirable teenage element of boys looking for younger victims, whether for theft of otherwise. Because of the rural setting of Fun Valley Park, these types don't find their way in. Better still, unlike a fair, where you pay to get in and pay to go on rides, once you're in you are basically done spending money. The objective of the fair is to nickel-and-dime you to death, eking out every last shekel they can manage.
Above - If you don't like the merry-go-round, I'd have to argue that you don't know how to have fun. It's got fiberglass ponies, music, rotation, and fast-moving lines with short wait times as well.
Once inside Fun Valley Park, you won't find pay-per-play games, overpriced trinket booths, or $10 scones. No, once you're in, your wallet is done, and that's a welcome change.
This article is already getting pretty long, so let me wrap up the things we loved most about Fun Valley Park in a quick-and-snappy list:
Unlimited rides on anything they have with no hidden charges.
The staff all genuinely seem to love their jobs, which is something we've seen nowhere else in Puerto Rico. (We asked the manager about that, and he cleverly asked, "Do they like their job, or do they like their boss?" I'm guessing the answer to both is yes, and somehow tied together.)
It's a family-run business, as it always has been.
The concession stand is a better bargain than fast food, (but I'll cover that in a whole, separate article, because it deserves it.)
Even the silliest, cheesiest rides are enough fun that we asked to go on them again.
The rides are appropriate for ages three through adult, and I'm not exaggerating. Go-carts, bumper boats, bouncy house, historic tram, merry-go-round, arcade, and an assortment of traditional carnival-type rides are all onsite.
They're just good people, and we've met enough in our travels to know the wheat from the chaff.
Fun Valley Park is located about 90-minutes west of San Juan towards Arecibo. Take Highway-10 and head south, where you'll find them on the right after a few quick miles. For seasonal hours and current rates, check them out online at FunValleyPark.com.
Above - As the day wore on, we wore out, and even rides like this one, which is plainly beyond my threshold for thrashing around, was enough to dampen my weather-moistened spirits. For the best though, I'd missed my union-mandated mid-afternoon ciesta.